Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Abstracted Cloudscapes - #3 & 4

Here are the next two in the cloudscape series.

Sunsets are, to use the Forrest Gump phrase, like a box of chocolates:  you never know what you're going to get.  Having observed (and photographed) now dozens of sunsets, there are times I figured it was a wash, only to see something spectacular.  Other times, the sky has all the makings for a beautiful sunset, and for reasons pertaining to optics, cloud type, and the cloud's location in the sky relative to the sun, it's a bust.

Having a west-facing deck means that I am privy to sunsets every night of the week.  We've watched as the sun has been increasingly creeping up the side of Smelter Mtn. as the autumnal equinox approaches.

Number Three is based on a photo taken recently of a sunset from our deck;  I cropped the already zoomed image a bit more to render it to two large masses and a smaller mass.  The colors on these sunset clouds are simply amazing - dark purples, blues and reds for the body of the cloud that faces away from the sun.  Along the bottom edge, the longer wavelengths of the sun's visible spectrum of light pass through the cloud vapor, going first from pale yellow to a salmon/pink, to finally intense crimsons and oranges.  Finally, these fade to increasingly darker shades of purple.

Further to the west and thus lower on the horizon, distal clouds await their turn to transition to brilliant colors.

abstracted cloudscape #3 - sunset understudy
pastel on Strathmore 400-series paper (black)
12 x 12 inches

It was fun using the high-chroma colors for the lower edges of the clouds here.  I find that there is often a huge discrepancy when I step back from the painting to compare it to the photo.  In this case, the subtle blues and pinks of the mid-section of the middle cloud are probably a bit too blue and too light (at least they are in the photo on my monitor).  And, there's always the issue of the clouds looking stiff, despite my efforts to prevent this.  I tried to keep finger blending to a minimum here, relying primarily on scumbling and layering of colors to try and achieve the effects I wanted.  I think a sanded paper surface would probably work better, allowing for more layering and perhaps less unintentional smudging.

abstracted cloudscape #4 - cirrus, racing
pastel on Strathmore 400-series paper, sanded
12 x 12 inches

The photo that this painting is based on was taken along Hwy 80, between Bisbee and Tombstone, in late winter, and from the window of a car while driving.  The cirrus clouds appeared to have such movement, with long, sweeping fallstreaks and hooked ends.  

For this piece, I think I sanded the surface too aggressively.  The result is that it was almost like painting on a sheet of cloth - the pastel just wouldn't lay down.  This was particularly an issue with the blues I used to do the sky, and it made blending and layering impossible, so that part looks pretty awful.  I decided this would be a good time to  experiment with workable fixative, something I seldom use, to see if I could add up the layers of pastel a bit more.  Didn't work so well.  So, no more of that.  I think the sweeping motion of the clouds themselves is a bit better than in the first cirrus painting, so that's good.   I thought about my former days as a surgical resident, with my attending telling me to hold the scalpel blade lightly - "don't grip it!"  Same goes for holding a pastel - lightly held, it allows for lighter, more gestural strokes.  Some areas of denser clouds towards the bottom called for the pastel to be applied with more pressure, and there are two shades of light gray used in addition to white here.  


  1. Beautiful sweeping clouds. I appreciate your "don't grip it" comment too. I can translate that to working with encaustic and adding oil pastel colors.

  2. Thanks, Liz :). I have to remind myself of how I hold things, and assuming the instrument or tool is of high quality and suited for the job, a light touch is probably all that's needed in most cases.

  3. Thanks, Jala! I wasn't so sure, esp. with the messy sky blues on the second...

    I'm pleased that they at least resonate with at least a few other people besides myself! :)

  4. These skies are stunning, Sonya. They're really moving in their colours and give a real sense of space, vastness and natural beauty. Excellent stuff! I hope to see more :)


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